WPCNR STAGE DOOR. Theatrical Review by John F. Bailey. January 5, 2019:
It’s a Sunday in the 1930s in the old West End and Noel Coward brightened up a nervous war wary London bringing the old reliable genre- the impossible farce – a sophisticated combination of slapstick, mistaken identity and incongruous door slamming, hiding in closets, bathrooms, hustling lovers in and out and shuffling corpses, flavored with rapid fire repartee that lifted audiences out of their chairs, from Blithe Spirit to Present Laughter to Private Lives Coward spoofed the upper classes and kept them laughing.
Westchester Broadway Theatre, in a stroke of timely inspiration, takes us deep into the heart and optimism of a show business promoter—with America’s farce master: Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me a Tenor, winner of 3 Tony awards and 4 Drama Desk awards when it took to Broadway in 1989 then came back in 2010,and nominated for three more.
to Friday night present to one of those old stuffy WBT Grand Hotel room suites of 1934 with austere wallpaper, small rooms, and tinny doors in Cleveland.
Saunders, the General Manager of the Cleveland Opera Company played with David Merrick panache by the veteran Broadway master, Philip Hoffman, nervously awaits Max (his assistant, J.D. Daw) to transport the star of the night’s sold-out benefit performance to the hotel.
Saunders is distraught when Max arrives without Tito Merelli, (Joey Sorge, recently seen in A Bronx Tale on Broadway) was not on the train. Saunders has a fit and right away you catch his anxiety. A full house and no star!
But the show must go on–no matter who sings.
Saunders immediately hits on the idea of Max, who sings, as possibly replacing Tito. But dismisses it. Maggie (Saunders’ daughter, whom Max adores) enters and it appears Max sings pretty good to her. When Tito arrives with his romantic Italian accent, and possessive wife, Maggie hides in a closet to get his autograph.
Tito’s demanding high strung Italian spitfire wife Maria is given high drama, hilarious volatility by Kathy Voytco (never has a perfect Italian nose been held higher), Maria takes umbrage, assuming Maggie is a secret lover. Maria writes Tito telling him she is leaving him.
Emoting, Tito says he is going to kill himself, but Max calms him down.
He gives Max singing lessons and they duet together, momentarily assuaging Tito’s grief. Tito lies down for a nap. When Max goes to get him. Tito is dead.
Saunders is distraught, again he approaches Max that he could impersonate Tito. And the farce rumbles into high, non-stop mayhem.
On to the Second Act. Max pulls off the impersonation of Tito and the audience is deceived (a magnificent joke in itself). Now the door slamming begins in earnest.
Diana, the soprano looking for her next role with Tito, comes to the hotel room to meet Tito, who is the real Tito. The case of mistaken identity engulfs the redhead opera soprano, Hannah Jane McMurray, looking to meet Tito and possibly get a break. She seduces Tito (who goes along willingly) works her wiles on him in hilarious style.
Maggie comes into congratulate Tito on his performance, thinking he is the real Tito, but instead he is Max, who is all too willing to accept her praise.
It is hard to tell who is who without a scorecard. Every character is trying to hide from the other.
This was the first performance Friday night and was right on the money with timing, choreography of door slams. Mollie McCasskill, in her WBT debut(Maggie), and Hannah Jane McMurray (Diana) fit their roles like gloves, emulated show business ingénues superbly, and fit in seamlessly frantic in their madcap dashes in and out of closets.
Philip Hoffman as the master producer Saunders steals the show as the plotting mastermind who reacts to every crisis with a fantastic solution, earning big laughs, dominating when is onstage.
Joey Sorge (Tito), the real tenor, struts and emotes with vintage Italian exaggeration, embodies the machismo and ego of a star tenor, and is at his comic best in playing off the ladies whom he does not know. He also lies on a bed for a good portion of the play which is an amusement in itself. Such a ludicrous sight to see.
J. D. Daw (Max) compliments Sorge (Tito) with perfect comic interplay, expressions of bewilderment, shock, and apprehension with deadpans, horror and gazes that keep the audience chuckling, guffawing and laugh out loud bursts. His singing is a bonus!
The play appears to be a take off on the real life incident when the choreographer of 42nd Street died before opening night in 1956, and the producer did not tell the cast of the death until after the opening night performance.
Do yourself a favor, get away from CNN, CSPAN, FOX NEWS, and leave laughing to the last door slam at Lend Me a Tenor, playing through January 26.
Book your suite next door to the doings in the producers’ suite at the WBT Hotel. Call the box office at (914) 592 2222 or go to www.BroadwayTheatre.com.